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Social Media Portal interview with Helen Lewis at Food & Drink Towers

Staff (Social Media Portal) - 06 October 2009

Profiled - Food & Drink Towers - A website for businesses, journalists and PRs in the food and drink sector

An interview with Helen Lewis, Managing Director at Food & Drink Towers

The Social Media Portal talks to Helen Lewis at Food & Drink Towers and connecting journalists and PRs in the food and drink industries

Food and Drink Towers logoSocial Media Portal (SMP): What is your role at Food & Drink Towers?

Helen Lewis (HL): Founder, editor & MD

SMP: Briefly, tell us about Food & Drink Towers, what is it and what does it do?

HL: Food & Drink Towers launched in October 2006. The website was created to bring PRs, food&drink producers and journalists closer together. As a food journalist, I was getting fed up with the constant stream of interviews with the bigger players who could afford to spend a fortune on PR each month. I wanted to speak to the smaller companies with more interesting stories to tell but knew that PR wasn’t a priority for them (or they couldn’t afford it). So, the website offers free services for all food and drink businesses, whether they have a PR company on board or not.

Anyone can publish a press release online, as long as it is related to food or drink, free of charge. We also provide daily news stories, regular features, competitions and review products and services relating to the food and drink world. More recent additions to the services include online advertising packages at less than £50 per month and a free ‘Help Our Journos’ Info Request Service. People can sign up to be on the helpers list and journalists send in their requests, which are emailed no more than once a day to the helpers.Photograph Helen Lewis, Managing Director at Food and Drink Towers

SMP: What made you start Food & Drink Towers?

HL: Overall, it was a passion for small and start-up food and drink producers and their natural enthusiasm for food and drink that gave me the drive to invest my time and money into the creation of food&drink towers.

SMP: What was the most challenging part of building the service?

HL: Getting people to understand that some things are free in life and that there are no strings attached. Yes, we do charge for some services such as the advertising, but we keep costs ridiculously low as we want everyone – from small start-ups to multinational companies – to enjoy the website. We are constantly having to remind people about the service and that it is still free!

SMP: Who are your target audience and why?

HL: PRs, journalists and food & drink producers, retailers, distributors, wholesalers. We also attract quite a few hardcore foodies who are just obsessed with everything to do with eating and drinking!

SMP: How did you initially attract users to your site / service, and how do you do it now?

HL: As a journalist I had built up a great contacts list so I simply emailed everyone I knew on October 9, 2006 to let them know about the website. By the end of the day we had more than 500 people signed up already, which far exceeded my initial expectations. We now have more than 4,000 ‘live’ people registered and we’re confident that these are people who use the site on a regular basis and have an involvement in at least one of the three key areas: PR, Journalism and Industry.

SMP: How does the forum work on Food & Drink Towers?

HL: We removed the forum from food&drink towers as it was attracting way too much spam and junk. Instead, people communicate with each other by uploading info and we offer a service whereby you can email the database with details of a new product launch, or a media party/launch event. We limit the number of emails we send to our database to a maximum of three per week to avoid annoying anyone and only charge £60 for the service. As people have signed up to the service, and because they know the email address, it has a much better impact (and invites usually get a very positive response) than one that is just sent from a random person they’ve never spoken to before.

SMP: What are the low moments of what you have been doing so far?

HL: Finding the time to keep the website going while managing the other parts of my business (that pay the bills) is tricky, especially now I’m a new Mum to Ellie who is seven months old. The fact that I love the website and all that it stands for is what keeps me going when I’m writing a product review or contacting people about a competition prize at 1am.

SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far?

HL: Meeting people when out and about either socially or through work who know about food&drink towers and regularly visit the website. For many people logging in to the website, checking the press release archive and the news pages is as part of the morning routine as grabbing a cuppa.

SMP: Now that you are established, what do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities?

HL: The biggest challenge for me at present is to get even more people signed up to the website. The industry is huge and there are plenty of opportunities for people to get involved whatever their job title. The aim of the website is to increase communication between the food and drink industry, PR and media worlds. There is a benefit to everyone – it’s just making it clear that there are no strings attached.

SMP: What are the next moves for Food & Drink Towers?

HL: We’re just about to publish our annual 10 top trends report. This always attracts a lot of attention and we’ve got some great sponsors on board this year. The 10 top trends for 2010 report will be published at food&drink towers and available for free download from 28th October 2009.

SMP: What’s the next big step for social media and networks and does this impact Food & Drink Towers?

: The next big step will be to keep up with the changing and evolving demands of the work/life balance. Social media and networks such as food&drink towers help people communicate more effectively with the right people at any time – they are not restricted to the 9-5 schedule. I get a lot of people uploading press releases in the evening, presumably when they’re at home in front of the TV with a glass of wine. I want to make more of this time and have some exciting ideas up my sleeve about making food&drink towers a more global enterprise, starting with Australia (where I have plenty of contacts already).

SMP: Now it is reported that we may be moving out of the global recession what do what impact do you think social media may have upon a business such as yours and the food and drink sector in general?

HL: The recession has meant that companies have had to focus their resources and re-allocate their budgets. Many people have chosen to move away from PR, which in my opinion is a disastrous move. During a recession, more than at any other time, it is imperative to continue communicating with your target audience and building confidence and customer loyalty. As for stopping talking to the media, that will do you no favours at all, particularly when you start the PR activity again and wonder why no one is interested in talking to you!

SMP: How does this fit into plans at Food & Drink Towers?

HL: Food&drink towers offers free services (i.e. press release upload and publication) so regardless of the recession you can still communicate with the media. With more than 1,000 journalists signed up to the towers, it’s a fabulous way of getting your brand ‘out there’ without spending a penny! If you do want to spend just one hundred pounds you can get your email in the inbox of each of these journos and advertising on the homepage for a month.

SMP: Best way to contact you?

HL: Email me at helen @

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

HL: A green superfood shake packed with seaweeds, wheatgrass and algae!

SMP: What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?

HL: I made my husband a delicious dinner last night

SMP: How many hours to you work a week?

HL: Too many.

SMP: If you weren’t running Food & Drink Towers what would you be doing?

HL: A nutritionist.

SMP: When and where did you go on your last holiday?

HL: For the first time in years we haven’t been away this year because we’ve been too busy focusing on our baby! Our last holiday was Lesvos last summer.

SMP: What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?

HL: Turn on radio 1 and listen to Chris Moyles while I’m checking my emails.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

HL: Ability to fly

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